Spinal Cord Injury and Stem Cells: New Perspectives

Spinal Cord Injury and Stem Cells: New Perspectives

Currently there is no effective treatment for spinal cord injury that restores function completely.

However, stem cells could provide the answer to treating and repairing spinal cord injuries.

Spinal Cord Injury
A British professor, Geoffrey Raisman, undertook research which showed that specific stem cells could enable a paralysed man to walk again.

He used stem cells called olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) from the nose of a patient and transplanted them into the spinal cord. OECs are unique cells which are part of the sense of smell. They allow nerve fibres in the olfactory system to constantly regenerate. Prof Raisman proved that “broken” nerve fibres in the spinal cord could repair themselves by using OECs that were transplanted into the spinal cord of the patient. These specific stem cells (OECs) facilitated the growth of the ends of severed nerve fibres and caused them to join together.

A doctor in Portugal also transplanted olfactory stem cells to treat spinal cord injury in over 100 patients. These studies showed that a few patients were able to regain at least limited motor function and sensation after transplantation.

Although it’s early days, these studies show that neuronal type stem cells (NSCs) hold great promise to treat various neurodegenerative diseases and injuries to the spinal cord. Stem cells possess the ability to differentiate into many types of neural cell, depending upon their environment and the stimulus that is provided.

At present there are 55 clinical trials investigating the application of stem cells in spinal cord injury. These trials are studying various sources of stem cells including mesenchymal stem cells, bone marrow, umbilical cord tissue and adipose tissue derived stem cells.

For more information, visit the following sites:

(Marsala M, et.al. Spinal parenchymal occupation by neural stem cells after subpial delivery in adult immunodeficient rats. STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, 2019; 9 (2): 177 DOI: 10.1002/sctm.19-0156)

Please note: Stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury is in a research phase, and is not an established therapy.

Cord blood stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury is not available in South Africa.

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